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Chenoweth Tableland Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking south from the Eagle Cliffs Viewpoint (bobcat)
Looking up at the Eagle Cliffs from the middle school (bobcat)
Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), Chenoweth Tableland (bobcat)
The western bowl, Chenoweth Tableland (bobcat)
Poet's shooting star (Dodecatheon poeticum), Waterfall Trail (bobcat)
The loop on the Chenoweth Tableland (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo


Hike Description

Above The Dalles hangs a line of cliffs that seem quite out of place among the basalt synclines and anticlines of the central Gorge. This sandstone of the Dalles Formation represents the remains of a Pliocene lake bed that formed in a basin covering the Columbia River basalts in this area. The former lake bed, now a plateau, is pimpled with scores of Mima mounds, a geomorphological phenomenon not adequately explained to this day. Much of the area to the west of these cliffs, over 300 acres, was purchased by the Forest Service in 2002. The cliff faces themselves host nesting raptors and swallows in the spring; in addition, generations of The Dalles teenagers have come up here, gouged their initials, splashed graffiti, built fires, and gotten cozy in the shallow caverns that perforate the rim. There are great views of the surrounding area as well as some unique rock formations; springtime wildflowers bloom in profusion, and a resident herd of deer can almost always be observed. Note that trail names here are given by the mountain bikers who use the area, and trails are not signposted.

NOTE: In the past, all areas of the tableland were accessible to locals via paths leading up from The Dalles. Since the Forest Service acquired some of the area, however, it has seen increased use, and local property owners have fenced off the southern section of the plateau, where some of the more interesting rock formations were visible. In addition, access has become more complicated recently (See the Chenowith Middle School Trailhead page.). Directions below still take you from the Middle School, but Sandlin Road may be the better option currently. This latter choice, from the end of the pavement on Sandlin Road, will add another 2.5 miles round-trip to the distance of the hike.

Walk around the fence and up through the parking lot towards the southwest corner of the school property. There’s an apartment complex to the left. Find the trail at the corner of the property. This heads north above the school through an oak savannah. Pass through a fence and note some ponderosa pines. Where the trail forks at a clump of bitterbrush, keep left and switchback up four times, getting views of the north end of The Dalles and across the Columbia. A trail leads right along a bench with views of the Chenoweth Valley, but after a couple of gullies, you will reach a No Trespassing sign and will have to turn back (This is the Middle Bench Trail which, like the Lower Bench Trail from the first junction, crosses a stretch of private land.). Instead, keep up to the left on the steep trail heading up through oaks and bitterbrush. Wildflowers bloom in profusion here, including grass widows, yellow bells, prairie stars, and balsamroot in early spring. Nearing a gap in the rimrock, a trail leads left and down to squeeze along the base of the cliffs. You can explore here for a while, noting the small caverns and much graffiti, but watch your footing.

Return to the gap. The trail leading west is the Upper Bench Trail, which runs entirely on Forest Service property and will form part of your return route. Head up to the tableland. To your left is the spectacular Eagle Cliffs Viewpoint offering views to the north (Sevenmile Hill, Crates Point, and Foley Lakes) and east (the Columbia Hills and the communication towers on Stacker Butte) as well as down to the city of The Dalles. You can hike south along the rim among the oaks, ponderosas, bitterbrush and rabbitbrush, leaving Old Archery Road to get great views over the city of The Dalles. Take note of a road track coming in from the right, and soon reach a fence that demarcates private property.

Return to the road coming in from the left, and follow it out through an oak, ponderosa, bitterbrush wood to the open area of the plateau. As you hike this section, you'll notice numerous Mima mounds, low humps about 20 feet in diameter, that pimple this grassland. Pass a seasonal pond and then a second pond. Both of these host breeding frogs in the spring. At the second pond, take the track leading left (FR 2132-356), which takes you past the corner of a private fence to join the more obvious track that leads south to Sandlin Road. Make a left there, and walk due south across a Mima mound-hummocked flatland. After about 110 yards, you'll see a trail breaking off to your right. Follow this path, through mounds and blooming camas above a broad bowl, where it is joined by Rock Gulch Run coming up from below to a copse of ponderosa pines. Keep on the rim, and pass through another scattering of pines before the trail runs near a fence line and begins to descend.

Turn right at a junction, and in 15 yards, keep left at the next junction. Make a traverse through an oak savanna parkland below the rim and into the head of the bowl. Here you'll pass above the Chenoweth Waterfall, which splashes down rock benches and over a charming grotto. The "waterfall" is perennial and generally only runs when there has been a recent rain. Shooting stars bloom in the mini-bogs here. Join Rock Gulch Run, and make a left. In 50 yards, you'll come to a junction, where you need to stay right on the Upper Bench Trail.

The Upper Bench Trail takes you below the rim for three-quarters of a mile to reach your access trail below the Eagle Cliffs Viewpoint. These are generally open slopes offering views across Chenoweth Creek to Sevenmile Hill. You'll cross rocky gullies and, after the third and deepest gully, you'll switchback up twice to cross a final gully before reaching a junction below the Eagle Cliffs Viewpoint. Go left to descend and return to the Middle School.

From the Sandlin Road Trailhead:

Park off the paved section of Sandlin Road, and walk down the gravel portion to arrive at a Forest Service gate. Pass around the gate, and follow the road as it curves left past a junction to head due north along a fenceline. At a corner in the fenceline, you can walk right past the two ponds out to the rim and thence north to the Eagle Cliffs Viewpoint.

Note: Justin Chenoweth (1825-1898) settled on a land claim near the mouth of Chenoweth Creek in 1853. He also carried the mail between The Dalles and the Cascades and surveyed much of the land around The Dalles for settlement. Note that there seem to be two spellings of 'Chenoweth' (or 'Chenowith') in the area.


Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Respect all private property signs
  • Share trails with mountain bikes

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

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